Yates County Legislature and area residents encourage New York state officials to include Keuka, Canandaigua and Seneca Lakes on the list of priority lakes for statewide programs on algae blooms

Yates County Legislators are calling on state officials to include Canandaigua, Keuka and Seneca Lakes among the lakes that will be studied with an aim to reduce sources of pollution that spark harmful algae blooms.

Algae blooms, some considered harmful or toxic, developed on all three lakes in the summer of 2017, but the lakes have not been included on a list of 12 priority lakes in New York to be included in a $60 million statewide initiative because they are considered to be critical sources of drinking water or vital tourism drivers.

The initiative was announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in late December. It appears state officials used data from the summer of 2015 and incidents from 2016 to determine which lakes would be priorities. That state Department of Health data concluded that in 2015 there were an estimated 35 HAB-associated illness cases in 16 New York counties, all associated with exposure during recreational activities like swimming and boating.

A 2015 DOH analysis listed both Seneca and Canandaigua Lakes as having HABs.

The Chronicle-Express asked a Department of Environmental Conservation spokesperson why none of the three lakes were included in the priority lakes, and received this response:

“DEC works hard to protect and restore all New York waters. Governor Cuomo’s recent announcement is an opportunity to focus our efforts to better understand and mitigate harmful algal blooms on an initial set of water bodies with the understanding that DEC will take what we learn and apply it across the state.”

A resolution unanimously adopted by the Yates County Legislature Jan. 8 says Canandaigua, Keuka, and Seneca Lakes are “vulnerable to HABs and are critical sources of drinking water and vital tourism drivers.”

Yates County Legislative Chairman Douglas Paddock said he contacted Cuomo’s regional representative earlier in the day about the resolution.

Valerie Brechko, co-chair of the Yates County Democratic Committee, told legislators that private citizens also will be contacting state officials about including the local lakes.

Grant Downs of the Town of Torrey, thanked the legislators for the resolution, and noted that Seneca Lake contains 50 percent of all the water in the Finger Lakes, which should make it a priority lake.

In late December, Cuomo’s office announced the proposal to protect the state’s lakes from HABs. The statement said 12 priority lakes were chosen because they represent a wide range of conditions and vulnerabilities. The closest lakes to Yates County are Honeoye and Conesus in the Western Group and Cayuga in the Central Group.

The four groups are:

Western Group: Conesus Lake; Honeoye Lake; Chautauqua Lake

Central Group: Owasco Lake; Skaneateles Lake; Cayuga Lake

North Country Group: Lake Champlain at Port Henry; New York portion of Lake Champlain at Isle La Motte watershed; Lake George

Greater Hudson Valley Group: Lake Carmel; Palmer Lake; Putnam Lake; Monhagen Brook watershed, including the five reservoirs serving the Middletown area

The governor’s statement said that the lessons learned by the Rapid Response teams that will be formed for each lake will be applied to other water bodies.

A statewide team co-chaired by Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner

Basil Seggos and Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, will convene four regional summits to bring together national experts with steering committees of local stakeholders for each lake.

The Rapid Response Team, national experts, and local stakeholders will develop plans to identify factors that lead to HABs. The state will provide $500,000 per lake to develop immediate action plans to reduce sources of pollution that spark algal blooms. The state will provide nearly $60 million in grant funding to implement the action plans, including new monitoring and treatment technologies.

According to Cuomo’s announcement, HABs occurrence has been linked to phosphorus and other nutrient inputs and is exacerbated by heavy rain events and warming waters related to climate change.

In 2017, more than 100 beaches were closed for at least part of the summer due to HABs, and Skaneateles Lake, the source of unfiltered drinking water for several communities including the city of Syracuse, was threatened by algal blooms for the first time.

HABS were reported on Keuka Lake for the first time in 2017.

In 2016, drinking water for more than 40,000 people in Cayuga County was impacted when HABs-related toxins were detected in finished drinking water for the first time.

More than $2 million in state funds was invested last year to construct state-of-the-art water treatment systems in the city of Auburn and town of Owasco to remove algal toxins from drinking water supplies. The Finger Lakes Water Hub to study algal blooms, work with local agencies and researchers, and undertake pollution reduction projects was established. Additionally, the state granted over $700,000 and expedited permits to Cayuga County for its Owasco Flats Wetlands Restoration initiative, designed to prevent nutrients from flowing into Owasco Lake, thereby discouraging the growth of algal blooms.